Community Spotlight: Ritter Center

Provided by the Ritter Center, Photos by Margot Duane Photography

We are each only so many steps away from homelessness. Some of us have had different challenges. Society does not acknowledge trauma, abuse, addiction, and loss of relationships. But even if you are not a survivor, it’s highly likely survivors of trauma are close to you. They are people you know and love, but you may not know what has happened to them or their loved ones. Coming home: it’s a universal right.


Ritter Center began over 40 years ago when a small number of Marin residents came together to address the fact that some in our community were not getting their basic needs met. These visionaries quickly saw that the need was beyond access to food. Medical, behavioral, health and housing issues were also involved. Most importantly, there was a need for human dignity. Over time, Ritter Center grew into the federally qualified health center that it is today. We provide integrated services to Marin County residents experiencing economic insecurity, homelessness or other housing instability. We address a wide range of needs with support for health care, housing, income, and access to nutritious food. We continue to strive for compassionate medical and behavioral health care with the whole person in mind.


The vision of the County of Marin’s Whole Person Care Pilot (WPC) is to build a sustainable, evidence-based, outcomes-focused coordinated system of care across health and social sectors to more efficiently and effectively serve Marin County’s most vulnerable Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

When our support of an individual experiencing homelessness is fragmented in silos, we can’t be as effective as when we join together with the same mission to care for all the needs a person might have. If an individual has been without a home for 10-15 years, the complex nature of the transition to housing can’t be overstated. It requires teaching and education. Most of all, it requires a partnership. At Ritter, we are deliberate in our work to be present and create space for each person who comes to us. The vast majority of people we help have experienced chronic persistent trauma and loss of relationships, and therefore the threshold for trusting someone is quite different. They expect that someone is going to hurt, reject or mistreat them. They have been let down so many times that it has become a built-in narrative.
The longer you have been homeless, the longer you are likely to be homeless. But at Ritter Center, there is still hope. We can provide patience for our patients. We hold hope for people. We can help people become housed. At Ritter Center, we know that housing is medicine for our patients. Housing First does not mean housing only. The Housing First approach recognizes social services and care coordination are necessary elements of housing stability and quality of life. Trauma to mental, emotional and physical health from life on the streets has a greater impact than anything else. A human being can’t eat properly, take medication, or even sleep while living on the streets. Outreach workers know that what most every person on the streets wants is to be housed. Housing first is not a housing program. Housing is a health intervention we can provide like physical therapy, medicine, or behavioral therapy.


You can get involved and make a difference. As a nonprofit, Ritter Center relies on the generosity of donors and volunteers to help us fulfill our mission. If you have a spare few hours each week or month, you can volunteer at our food pantry. You can also donate to a variety of fundraising programs that support our housing and healthcare services, and seasonal programs that provide school supplies and backpacks to students, turkey meal kits for families at Thanksgiving, and hot holiday dinners for people experiencing homelessness.

This summer, with invite you to team up with your family and friends on Saturday, July 31, for Ritter Center's Under the Stars: A Sleepout to End Homelessness and help raise $150,000 for Ritter Center's housing support and healthcare services that prevent and resolve homelessness.

Housing is a right and homelessness is solvable. We believe everyone deserves a safe place to call home, regardless of income. While choosing to sleep in an area other than your own bedroom cannot recreate what it feels like to be homeless, Ritter Center's first-ever Under the Stars sleepout will help raise awareness of the complex issues around homelessness, and shatter common myths while building compassion as a community and raising vital funds.

Simply form or join a team and participate. All you need to do is give up your warm bed for just one night and ask your friends and family to support your efforts. Registered participants can access their own Participant Center to help them fundraise and there are prizes for top fundraisers and the largest team. On the night of the event, participants will enjoy live-streamed activities from 6–8 pm PT hosted by Ritter Center's Executive Director, Mark Shotwell, remarks by Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly, and a special video by U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman. We’ll wrap up with an awards ceremony for top fundraisers and a bedtime story. This immersive, memorable event will help bring our community together, connecting us for one night to the plight of those without a place to call home with the shared goal of ending homelessness.

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